Young and Old Protest in D.C. for Jobs, Unemployment Benefits

New America Media | 12/13/2011, 1:16 p.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Julia Lee hobbled on a cane in a crowd of marchers toward the Longworth...

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Julia Lee hobbled on a cane in a crowd of marchers toward the Longworth House Office Building. She last held a full-time job five years ago. Lee, who now receives disability payments, was injured in an accident and uses a cane due to a rejected knee replacement two years ago.

The grandmother of seven from Philadelphia traveled to Washington because, to her, something's not right.

"All Americans have a right to a job and have a right to take care of their families, because that's what this country is built on," Lee said.

Young and old in mud-caked shoes marched toward the Capitol on Thursday calling for jobs and economic fairness. The marchers have convened in Washington from across the country, camping on Washington's National Mall by day and sleeping in local churches by night.

They are part of an effort backed by Our DC, a grassroots advocacy group focused on good jobs for District residents. It organized the encampment in collaboration with a coalition of union members and the unemployed. Thursday's procession followed several days of action, including a march on K Street, known as the center of corporate lobbying, and sit-ins at congressional offices.

1.8 Million Would Lose Unemployment Benefits

The mobilization is tied to Congress's current focus on proposed extensions of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. If the payroll tax cut is allowed to expire at the end of this month, an American family making $50,000 a year stands to pay an additional $1,000 in taxes next year, according to the White House.

And if the unemployment extensions end, 1.8 million people will lose benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project). The president has advocated vehemently for the two measures, arguing that both provided needed stimulus for the slowly recovering economy. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the benefits should not be extended without cuts in other areas. Progress on the measures has been glacial.

The employment market is not without its bright spots. Markets rallied last week when the unemployment rate dropped below nine percent, its lowest point in two-and-a-half years. But the majority of that drop came from people giving up the job search. There are still 16 million Americans either without a job or looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One of those who have given up looking is John Butler of Washington. The D.C. Metro area has been a standout during the recession, with an unemployment rate below the national average, but disparities abound. Within the city of Washington, 11 percent are unemployed. In the city's poorest section, Ward 8, the rate is more than 26 percent, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services. It has been more than 20 percent since December 2008.

Butler has been unemployed for several years and now works with Our DC. He helped to coordinate the four-day encampment on the National Mall, called Take Back the Capitol.

"The need is real," Butler said. "We are hurting."

"We're here to have them see us, hear us and feel us. Feel our pain," he said.